Dining with dad: Jacksonville brothers make time for weekly meals with their father
BY MATT FRANZBLAU
Every Friday, without fail, there is a steadfast tradition in Jacksonville that has continued through the past two decades, numerous seasons and the many months that follow. While it doesn’t implicitly have anything to do with Shabbat, it does take place on the sacred Jewish holiday, where four members of the local community gather for lunch, each and every noon hour of the final day of the work week, to catch up and spend quality time together.
“We have for the last 10 years made it a priority in our family that this comes first,” said David Miller, one of three Miller brothers who take their father Richard out to lunch every seven days. “Our office staff knows not to schedule appointments for us during this time, so this is the one meal that we all work our schedules around.”
While David and his middle brother Michael made it a threesome for the occasional lunch when their father was still working around the turn of the century, the trio didn’t add a fourth to the fold until the mid-2000’s. That’s when younger brother Daniel made the move back to Jacksonville from New York, forming this now sacred and time honored tradition.
“We never get enough time with dad alone, so we wanted to have a chance to hear the stories again and relive growing up,” Daniel explained. “For him to see us be together and have a chance to reconnect every week is special.”
Despite the venues changing from week-to-week, and the conversations rotating around occurrences in each other’s lives, one thing that remains constant is the four men at the table.
“Some people will say they want to work out regularly but then something gets in the way, so you have to set your priorities and for us the number one priority is family,” Michael said. “This comes first no matter what as it’s a reoccurring meeting on my calendar.”
From the other side of the table, the time each son takes out of his busy schedule to spend time with the man who helped to raise them, speaks volumes about their relationship.
“I am so lucky that they want to do it but I am so lucky that I have a chance to see them every week,” the elder Miller said. “It’s something I look forward to and is one of the highlights of my week.”
Sometimes in life, unforeseen circumstances get in the way of a special tradition, but because it’s important to those who carry it on, adjustments and amendments are made to make sure it works for everyone involved.
“There are times based on dad’s health we’ve had to have picnics in River Garden,” David described of some lunchtime anomalies. “So it’s less about the place and more about the people.”
And that’s exactly why the Miller boys try to keep their meals to just the guys and their dad.
“Our spouses know this is just the time for the Miller boys to be together,” David explained. “It’s just a different kind of interaction when it’s just us.”
“Sometimes it’s just fun to have guy talk and because of that there is no topic that’s off limits when it’s just us guys,” Michael described of the lunchtime atmosphere.
“It’s not always what we say, but it’s how we say it and dad is always here with a smile on his face,” Daniel said. “That is the one constant.”
In an age where time is measured in seconds and minutes, not afternoons and evenings, Richard Miller feels lucky that his three sons, set aside a portion of their afternoon to make more memories, recounting their old ones.
“The idea of getting together like this on a regular basis is wonderful and we’re fortunate that we live relatively close enough to do it,” he said.
“So many families today see their kids move apart, and maybe they get together for the High Holy Days or Passover, but we’ve made the choice to stay together,” Michael described of his unique family bond. “We are all in the same business together, we all live within a mile and a half of each other and to some people that idea would seem really foreign, but for us we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“As a family we had the experience growing up on both sides of the tracks but through it all I think one of the things we are most proud of is that our values never changed,” David explained.
One thing that has changed, and for the better, is the selection of eateries available to the Miller men each week, based upon the expansion and location of their offices over the years.
“When we started our business (Brightway Insurance), we had one store on the North side of Jacksonville and there were slimmer pickings for eating,” David remembered. “ But as our business has grown to its second office on St. Augustine Road and to our current location on University Boulevard, so has our selections of restaurants.”
With 52 opportunities to make more memories each year, one would imagine there are a lot of laughs and subsequent stories that as a result come from their mid-day, end of the week meet-ups.
“There are a few funny ones that stand out, like the one time where both of my brothers got food poisoning following one of our lunches before,” Daniel recalled, “There have also been times that we’ve like brothers do had to get through some tough conversations but at the end of the day there is no question that we’re always family and we always come back together.”
During the past decade the meals and restaurants have added up, with each brother taking turns treating the other and their dad each week, but one thing that has also grown in size is the Miller family as Richard now has six grandchildren to his name. This gives him and his sons even more reason to put their busy schedules aside and focus on family matters.
“When it comes to this people get an idea of what our values are,” David said about keeping this tradition and not agreeing to meetings and other commitments taking place at noon on Fridays. “Everyone assumes that you always want to say yes to things, but sometimes in our life, saying no speaks more about who are and what you stand for than just saying yes.”
So for anyone looking to schedule a meeting with either Miller brother for those allotted 60-90 minutes each week, it’s safe to assume what the answer will be, but rest assured that time is treasured by each son, as ultimately there is no greater gift one can give someone else than what they don’t have an unlimited supply of. For Daniel, David and Michael Miller, their time is just a small token of appreciation to the man that has already given them so much.